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Cheap Drinks And Risk-Taking Fuel College Drinking Culture

NPR Health Blog - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 3:22am
Cheap Drinks And Risk-Taking Fuel College Drinking Culture September 08, 2014 3:22 AM ET Listen to the Story 5 min 21 sec   Rob Donnelly for NPR

There's no question that alcohol is a factor in the majority of sexual assaults on campus. And alcohol is abundant and very present at most colleges today.

In fact, federal health officials say more than 80 percent of college students drink. And about half say they binge drink. This means more than four drinks for women and more than five drinks for men, within a two-hour time frame.

"Everybody's drinking to get drunk," says Dr. Sharon Levy, a pediatrician and director of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program at Boston Children's Hospital. "Kids tell me this is how they socialize with friends."

Levy says that what's happening on college campuses is an unfortunate collusion of the brain's biology with a hard-to-resist environment.

Though 18-year-olds are legally considered adults, their brains are sort of stuck in adolescence, Levy says, not fully developed till the mid-20s. So at 18, the when students typically enter college, the part of their brain in charge of seeking reward and stimulation is in full gear.

But here's the tricky part: The part of the brain that could put the brakes on impulsive behavior is still immature and not fully functioning. When people in this age group drink, Levy says, "they're more likely to do risky things even though their judgment is impaired and some of those things may be dangerous. They're more likely to drive a car, more likely to go for a swim and, frankly, more likely to have sexual contact."

Shots - Health News Legal Drinking Age Of 21 Saves Lives, Even Though It's Flouted

And college students drink a lot more than their peers who are not in college, Levy says. "We've created a situation in which there is an expectation that drinking — heavy drinking — is just part of the college experience."

It's an experience many teenagers just aren't prepared for. Last year, Alexa was a freshman at a West Coast college. She agreed to discuss her drinking experiences with us, but because drinking alcohol isn't legal for her or for her classmates under 21, we agreed not to use her full name.

Alexa didn't drink or party in high school. So it was a real shocker, she says, when she got to college and alcohol was everywhere. "You just step out your door and there's a whole community right there, it's easy, there's no challenge to it," she says. And parties where drinking games abound? No problem there, either. "In college I'd say there's probably a party five days out of the week," she says.

And even if it's not a party, Alexa says, kids drink in their dorm rooms while playing board games or cards.

At first she just wasn't interested. But then she felt other students viewed her as unapproachable, even judgmental. And that's not how she wanted to come across.

So, she started going to parties, started drinking and got drunk a number of times. "My decision to 'fit in' backfired on me in the sense that when I did become inebriated, I didn't act how I usually act, present myself in a way which I'm proud of. I was just loud, obnoxious and probably a bit too honest with people I was just meeting and, yeah, I'm not proud of that."

Even so, Alexa says she was on the "luckier" side. She didn't pass out, go to the hospital or get alcohol poisoning. But plenty of students do.

More than a half-million people between the ages of 18 and 24 get injured while under the influence each year, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Federal health officials say more than 1,800 die every year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes.

Studies consistently find a link between alcohol and sexual assault on campus. Drinking by men increases the odds that they will perpetrate a sexual assault, and drinking by women increases their vulnerability. One study found a woman was 19 times more likely to be assaulted if she had had four or more drinks.

Shots - Health News Can We Predict Which Teens Are Likely To Binge Drink? Maybe

Harvard epidemiologist Elissa Weitzman wanted to know why some teenagers become binge drinkers in college, while others don't. She conducted a national survey of college freshmen. "The largest single factor that predicted the uptick of binge drinking for freshmen coming to college was the price they paid for a drink; it enormously increased their risk."

And, in most college towns, Weitzman says, the price is right: It's cheap.

"The way the bars compete is through volume discounts; they make alcohol very cheap at the per-drink level. The bar makes money through volume," she says. And that bargain price had a lot more to do with whether kids drank than public-health information about the dangers of alcohol.

Hence ladies night. Two-for-one night. "Specials" that appeal to young kids with fake IDs or who may not be carded to prove they're 21 and legally able to drink.

Shots - Health News College Students Can Learn To Drink Less, If Schools Help

But those effects aren't inevitable, Weitzman says. When colleges partner with local communities to put rules in place and enforce them, college drinking decreases.

In one study, Weitzman looked at 10 universities with high binge drinking rates. When the schools and communities asked bars to reduce marketing and promotions that appealed to young people, worked with police to close down wild parties and prohibited alcohol ads in student newspapers, things changed.

Students actually drank less and reported fewer hangovers, missed classes or academic problems.

Vandalism went down. So did drunken driving and injuries. It's not clear whether sexual assault was reduced because so many cases weren't reported. Weitzman says the findings suggest that "communities absolutely have the power to change the environment around them."

And following the lead of designated drivers, with slogans like "friends don't let friends drive drunk," she suggests strategies like "friends don't let friends get out of control."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

Cosmic Rays Sound Scary, But Radiation Risk On A Flight Is Small

NPR Health Blog - Sat, 09/06/2014 - 5:30am
Cosmic Rays Sound Scary, But Radiation Risk On A Flight Is Small September 06, 2014 5:30 AM ET

Credit: Katherine Streeter for NPR

If you take a Geiger counter with you on your next flight, you'll notice the dial ratchet up as the plane approaches cruising altitude. Every time you fly, you get zapped by a little extra radiation from space. It goes right through you, in teensy amounts. It's usually nothing to worry about, even if you're pregnant.

But for people who fly a lot — like the plane's crew — that sort of exposure might, in rare instances, amount to something.

Research published Wednesday in JAMA Dermatology shows that pilots and other air crew members have "approximately twice the incidence of melanoma compared to the general population." The study's authors say that difference might be partially due to in-flight exposure to UV and cosmic radiation.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is using computer models to look into how working as a flight attendant might affect reproductive health. A recent study in the journal Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine looked at data from 2 million flights and found that some flight attendants may exceed recommended radiation limits.

The sun regularly shoots charged particles at the Earth, especially during solar temperature tantrums. Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field deflect most of these particles before they reach us.

NASA

"This would be uncommon, but it does happen," says Barbara Grajewski, an epidemiologist with NIOSH and an author of the study. "It could be at a level that could be of concern, and in excess of the national recommended dose for a pregnant woman."

In some countries, including the United States, members of a flight crew are considered "radiation workers." According to NASA researchers, a pilot who routinely works long-haul flights may be exposed to about twice the radiation of the average landlubber and more than a fuel-cycle worker in a nuclear power plant.

"Galactic cosmic rays" may sound like beams from an alien weapon, but they're actually the charged particles emitted by stars, including our sun. In an instrument called a cloud chamber, they look like gentle wisps. When accompanied by violinists, they sound like buzzing flies.

The rays pass through us all, "whizzing through you every day of your life," delivering a smidgen of radiation, says radiation physicist Robert Barish, who wrote a book about in-flight radiation. On a long-haul flight, particularly at high latitudes, that smidgen can become a dollop.

There are a few reasons for that. At a passenger jet's cruising altitude — 30,000 feet or more above the ground — the protective layer of atmosphere that surrounds the Earth and deflects cosmic rays isn't as dense. The Earth's magnetic shielding is also weaker over the poles, which means that more radiation enters at high latitudes. And the sun sometimes lets loose with space weather, delivering 100 times more radiation than usual.

Data from the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements show the average annual effective dose for workers in various fields. Aviation doses are estimated based on flight routes and altitudes.

NCRP Report 160

Airlines in European Union countries train and monitor their employees as if they were working directly with radioactive materials. Elsewhere, Canada and Japan have issued similar recommendations. U.S. airlines tend to be less prescriptive, though the Federal Aviation Administration has published guidelines to advise them.

The possible health ramifications for flight crews are still under study. NASA is developing a space weather monitoring system that might be used to give airlines a heads up when rays are likely to be particularly intense. The International Commission on Radiological Protection is working on a report on the subject. And an upcoming NIOSH study will look at the possible impact of flight on the risk of miscarriage.

Evidence that solar radiation has any effect on fetuses is scanty, researchers say. "The science says that the fetus is particularly sensitive between the eighth and 15th week," says Jacques Lochard, leader on the upcoming ICRP report. "This is the sensitive period [for] IQ loss."

But most of that information is based on cases of extreme exposure, he says, such as the children of atomic bomb survivors, who would have received a different kind of radiation, and in doses much higher than those experienced on a plane flight.

Radiation is only one part of why European airlines encourage female staff to declare their pregnancy as soon as possible. Jet lag, for example, which entails a disruption of circadian rhythms, might also affect reproductive health.

Even if the risk from occupational exposure to cosmic radiation is small, airlines should routinely provide information that would enable flight crew members to figure out their lifetime exposure, as "a matter of respect," Lochard says.

Additional Information: Related Stories 13.7: Cosmos And Culture Cosmic Rays: 100 Years Of Mystery Shots - Health News Headed To Mars? Watch Out For Cosmic Rays

Judith Murawski, an industrial hygienist with the Association of Flight Attendants, agrees. "Would it be justified to not mention to nuclear workers that they're being exposed to radiation?" she asks. "It's the same."

There isn't much crews or passengers can do about their exposure, short of avoiding polar flights, or taking a boat instead. Flying airlines at low altitudes would burn more fuel, and it wouldn't make sense to encase jets in heavy protective material.

NIOSH's Grajewski and her co-authors suggest that commercial airlines heed warnings about unusual space weather so they can change flight paths. They also recommend that pregnant members of any air crew choose flight routes that travel at lower altitude and latitude, if they can.

Anyone can estimate their own exposure with various online calculators, or check out space weather conditions, as Murawski did when she was pregnant. "Had there been a solar storm of S2 or higher, then I would not have flown," she says.

Of course, many travelers don't have that level of flexibility or concern. At the end of the day, Grajewski says, it's about probability. "The more you're exposed, the higher the probability" that you've somewhat increased your risk of something like cancer or prenatal defects.

That may sound scary. But this chart, from the blog Information is Beautiful, helps put things in perspective. As the diagram makes clear, walking through an airport security scanner exposes a person to about the same ionizing radiation dose as eating a banana. Flying from New York to Los Angeles exposes you to roughly the same amount of radiation you'd get from eight dental X-rays — and less than you'd get living in a stone house for a year. And those peanuts that airlines hand out? They're a little radioactive, too.

"Radiation is one example of where people have such a wrong idea about what is dangerous, and are also unaware of its ubiquitous nature," says Barish. "Radiation is all around us. It is in us."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

Cosmic Rays Sound Scary, But Radiation Risk On A Flight Is Small

NPR Health Blog - Sat, 09/06/2014 - 5:30am
Cosmic Rays Sound Scary, But Radiation Risk On A Flight Is Small September 06, 2014 5:30 AM ET

Credit: Katherine Streeter for NPR

If you take a Geiger counter with you on your next flight, you'll notice the dial ratchet up as the plane approaches cruising altitude. Every time you fly, you get zapped by a little extra radiation from space. It goes right through you, in teensy amounts. It's usually nothing to worry about, even if you're pregnant.

But for people who fly a lot — like the plane's crew — that sort of exposure might, in rare instances, amount to something.

Research published Wednesday in JAMA Dermatology shows that pilots and other air crew members have "approximately twice the incidence of melanoma compared to the general population." The study's authors say that difference might be partially due to in-flight exposure to UV and cosmic radiation.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is using computer models to look into how working as a flight attendant might affect reproductive health. A recent study in the journal Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine looked at data from 2 million flights and found that some flight attendants may exceed recommended radiation limits.

The sun regularly shoots charged particles at the Earth, especially during solar temperature tantrums. Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field deflect most of these particles before they reach us.

NASA

"This would be uncommon, but it does happen," says Barbara Grajewski, an epidemiologist with NIOSH and an author of the study. "It could be at a level that could be of concern, and in excess of the national recommended dose for a pregnant woman."

In some countries, including the United States, members of a flight crew are considered "radiation workers." According to NASA researchers, a pilot who routinely works long-haul flights may be exposed to about twice the radiation of the average landlubber and more than a fuel-cycle worker in a nuclear power plant.

"Galactic cosmic rays" may sound like beams from an alien weapon, but they're actually the charged particles emitted by stars, including our sun. In an instrument called a cloud chamber, they look like gentle wisps. When accompanied by violinists, they sound like buzzing flies.

The rays pass through us all, "whizzing through you every day of your life," delivering a smidgen of radiation, says radiation physicist Robert Barish, who wrote a book about in-flight radiation. On a long-haul flight, particularly at high latitudes, that smidgen can become a dollop.

There are a few reasons for that. At a passenger jet's cruising altitude — 30,000 feet or more above the ground — the protective layer of atmosphere that surrounds the Earth and deflects cosmic rays isn't as dense. The Earth's magnetic shielding is also weaker over the poles, which means that more radiation enters at high latitudes. And the sun sometimes lets loose with space weather, delivering 100 times more radiation than usual.

Data from the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements show the average annual effective dose for workers in various fields. Aviation doses are estimated based on flight routes and altitudes.

NCRP Report 160

Airlines in European Union countries train and monitor their employees as if they were working directly with radioactive materials. Elsewhere, Canada and Japan have issued similar recommendations. U.S. airlines tend to be less prescriptive, though the Federal Aviation Administration has published guidelines to advise them.

The possible health ramifications for flight crews are still under study. NASA is developing a space weather monitoring system that might be used to give airlines a heads up when rays are likely to be particularly intense. The International Commission on Radiological Protection is working on a report on the subject. And an upcoming NIOSH study will look at the possible impact of flight on the risk of miscarriage.

Evidence that solar radiation has any effect on fetuses is scanty, researchers say. "The science says that the fetus is particularly sensitive between the eighth and 15th week," says Jacques Lochard, leader on the upcoming ICRP report. "This is the sensitive period [for] IQ loss."

But most of that information is based on cases of extreme exposure, he says, such as the children of atomic bomb survivors, who would have received a different kind of radiation, and in doses much higher than those experienced on a plane flight.

Radiation is only one part of why European airlines encourage female staff to declare their pregnancy as soon as possible. Jet lag, for example, which entails a disruption of circadian rhythms, might also affect reproductive health.

Even if the risk from occupational exposure to cosmic radiation is small, airlines should routinely provide information that would enable flight crew members to figure out their lifetime exposure, as "a matter of respect," Lochard says.

Additional Information: Related Stories 13.7: Cosmos And Culture Cosmic Rays: 100 Years Of Mystery Shots - Health News Headed To Mars? Watch Out For Cosmic Rays

Judith Murawski, an industrial hygienist with the Association of Flight Attendants, agrees. "Would it be justified to not mention to nuclear workers that they're being exposed to radiation?" she asks. "It's the same."

There isn't much crews or passengers can do about their exposure, short of avoiding polar flights, or taking a boat instead. Flying airlines at low altitudes would burn more fuel, and it wouldn't make sense to encase jets in heavy protective material.

NIOSH's Grajewski and her co-authors suggest that commercial airlines heed warnings about unusual space weather so they can change flight paths. They also recommend that pregnant members of any air crew choose flight routes that travel at lower altitude and latitude, if they can.

Anyone can estimate their own exposure with various online calculators, or check out space weather conditions, as Murawski did when she was pregnant. "Had there been a solar storm of S2 or higher, then I would not have flown," she says.

Of course, many travelers don't have that level of flexibility or concern. At the end of the day, Grajewski says, it's about probability. "The more you're exposed, the higher the probability" that you've somewhat increased your risk of something like cancer or prenatal defects.

That may sound scary. But this chart, from the blog Information is Beautiful, helps put things in perspective. As the diagram makes clear, walking through an airport security scanner exposes a person to about the same ionizing radiation dose as eating a banana. Flying from New York to Los Angeles exposes you to roughly the same amount of radiation you'd get from eight dental X-rays — and less than you'd get living in a stone house for a year. And those peanuts that airlines hand out? They're a little radioactive, too.

"Radiation is one example of where people have such a wrong idea about what is dangerous, and are also unaware of its ubiquitous nature," says Barish. "Radiation is all around us. It is in us."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs
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